Tolstoy and the Religious Culture of His Time

Tolstoy and the Religious Culture of His Time : A Biography of a Long Conversion, 1845-1887

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The first book-length study on the subject in any language, Tolstoy and the Religious Culture of His Time treats Tolstoy's experience as a massive philosophical and religious project rather than a crisis-laden tragedy. Inessa Medzhibovskaya explains the evolution of Tolstoy's religious outlook based on his ongoing dialogue with the tradition of conversion in Europe and Russia, as well as on the demands of his own heart, mind, and spirit. The author contextualizes Tolstoy's conversion, comparing his pattern of religious conversion with that of other notable religious converts-Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, Luther, Pascal, Rousseau-as well with that of Tolstoy's countrymen-Pushkin, Gogol, Chaadaev, Stankevich, Belinsky, Herzen, and Dostoevsky. Stressing the importance of the religious culture of his time for Tolstoy, this study investigates the nineteenth century debates that inspired and repelled Tolstoy as he weighed arguments for or against faith in his dialogues with the culture of his time, covering widely differing fields and disciplines of experimental knowledge. The author considers German Romantic philosophy, the natural sciences, pragmatist religious solutions, theories of social progress and evolution, and the historical school of Christianity. Medzhibovskaya stresses the fact that influential intellectual currents were as important to Tolstoy as believers and nonbelievers were from and beyond his immediate environment. The author argues that, in this sense, Tolstoy's conversion emerges as deeply intertextual, and this surprising discovery should not diminish our trust in Tolstoy's sincerity during his religious evolution, which occurred both spontaneously as well as deliberately. The polyphony of discreet spiritual moments that Tolstoy created by fusing in his narratives of conversion religious and artistic realms is arguably his greatest contribution to spiritual autobiography.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text | 450 pages
  • MD, United States
  • English
  • 0739140760
  • 9780739140765

Review quote

This book is indeed a very detailed intellectual-or rather philosophical-biography of Tolstoi, from the age of 17-59. . . . The quantity and thoroughness of Medzhibovskaya's research are stupendous. Tolstoy and the Religious Cutlure of His Time is an important book on several levels. It offers a beautifully scholarly examination of Tolstoy's thinking on faith that gives us new readings of both his philosophy and his literary works, while also offering an exploration of faith, doubt, and conversion in nineteenth-century Russia. Medzhibovskaya explores Tolstoy's movement towards conversion within a rich variety of contexts. She offers a highly detailed profile of the complex environment in which Tolstoy came of age as a thinker, an environment that incorporated Western philosophy, Orthodox theology, and the Russian literary and political tradition. She also puts Tolstoy's conversion within the context of contemporary theories of how conversions work. Tolstoy and the Religious Culture of His Time offers a fresh, powerful, and convincing reading of Tolstoy's life, work, and faith. Grounded in careful, thorough scholarship, it provides us with a way of thinking about Tolstoy that is ultimately new. It is a must-read not only for Tolstoy scholars, but also for anyone interested in Orthodoxy, doubt, and conversion. With this authoritative and revealing study of Tolstoy's quest for faith, based on his every word and placed in its appropriate Russian and Western philosophical context, Inessa Medzhibovskaya emerges as the leading Tolstoy scholar of her generation in Russia and the West....--Richard Gustafson Tolstoy's spiritual conversion?severed from its rich European contexts and unjustly reduced to guilt, moral epiphany, pathology, personal caprice, fear of death?has remained the greatest puzzle of his life and career. This marvelous book reconnects Tolstoy with his culture by following, step by step and over four decades, his quest for 'reasonable necessity and conscious freedom, ' in a story that expands the conversion moment from a singular threshold into a vast, fraught, thrilling terrain....--Caryl Emerson Critics usually treat Tolstoy's frequent references in his writings before 1880 to God and religion as unself-conscious cultural clich s or occasional swallows that do not make a spring. In Tolstoy and the Religious Culture of his Time, Inessa Medzhibovskaya weaves such references into a retelling of Tolstoy's life and works from beginning to end. Neither traditional Orthodox Christian nor doubting Western philosopher, Medzhibovskaya's Tolstoy employs all available weapons in a lifelong struggle with faith very relevant to readers today...--Donna Orwin
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About Inessa Medzhibovskaya

Inessa Medzhibovskaya is assistant professor of literature at the Eugene Lang College of the New School.
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